Shutterland: photographers’ journeys through everyday life in South Africa

From the fragrant spice shops of Fordsburg, to fields in Mpumalanga, Shutterland shines a photographic spotlight on life in South Africa. A medium often neglected by South Africa’s contemporary art scene, the exhibit retells the age-old story of words and images: if cultural moments aren’t captured in photos, they may as well have never existed. 

“I wanted to create something big. Something to make people take notice. Something to enter the market with a bang,” said Shutterland’s curator and fine art photographer, Marnus Strydom.

Strydom believes that photographic exhibitions are an important stage to tell these significant stories. Shutterland will be on show at the Art and About Gallery in Sandton, from Friday 20 May. 

“The whole reason behind the exhibition is to shine the spotlight on South African photography, a medium that is sorely looked down on in the South African contemporary art scene,” explains Strydom. 

“They breed local photographers, I would like to give them a physical platform. The end goal will be to try to establish a local photography fair that is on an international level,” says Strydom. 

The sounds, smile, and legends of Soweto

Telling stories both tender and harrowing, Andile Bhala is a documentary storyteller and  photographer from Soweto

Bhala’s street life photography aims to shed light on the contrast of life in Soweto for both its beauty and harsh realities. With his backpack and playlist part of his photographer’s arsenal, Bhala rides through Soweto capturing moments like Qhubekela Phambili and linkokheli Ziyazalwa, which optimistically move one to look forward. 

“The rawness of the streets is integral to the work. I try not to manipulate the image. The reality in the image must not be lost. I challenge myself to see beyond the cacophony of the environment to capture its beauty,” explains Bhala. 

Roger Ballen’s psychological orchestra 

No South African photographic exploration is complete without a feature from Roger Ballen. An American who has called South Africa home for the last 50 years, Ballen’s distinctive black and white exploration of the darker side of human existence brings together a psychological orchestra that one cannot look away from. 

The collection of photos in Asylum of the Birds captures over 10 years of the bizarre world of a house in Johannesburg, whose location is a tightly-guarded secret. The home’s residents – pets and people alike – live among birds, like doves, chickens, and ducks. Ballen’s approach to telling the story of this relationship is chilling and ominous with scary shadows, eerie human figures and odes to the macabre. 

If you have a casual R125k to spend on an image of a young boy, who looks like he lives in an asylum in [creepy] harmony with birds, then you can take a piece of this home, into your home. 

Beauty in Consequence 

Mpumalanga photographer, Nadia Raaths, like Ballen, hosts a collection of black and white photographs revealing complex ambivalence between “questionable feelings and evident realities”.

Works like Not Helping, where an elderly hand covers any light shining down on an injured moth and Shaped Like a Gun, where a woman points a handgun out to a field of flowers, beautifully guide the viewer on an exploration of the juxtaposition of individual innocence that exists in the same South African society as such brutality.

It’s a reflection on memory, traumas from rejection and abandonment, all intensely displaced. She finds beauty in the things of consequence,” reads Raaths’ bio in Shutterland

Raaths’ work in Shutterland conveys her point of view of what vulnerability looks like according to her own reality and the nature in which she lives.  

Shutterland is a celebration of South African photography curated by Marnus Strydom. The show is on exhibition until 23 May.

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Kimberley Schoeman
Kimberley Schoeman is a sophisticated and eccentric wordsmith at the Mail & Guardian. A tastemaker in the making, she is in pursuit of the best in culture, fashion, and style.

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